Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Irish Interlude!!

This is Camille O'Sullivan ~ Irish Girl, Actress & Entertainer.  Enjoy!!


Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh how how how, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk float ride your mind
You're so natural - religiously unkind

Oh no love! you're not alone
You're watching yourself but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only
make you care
Oh no love! you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone .....

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Only a 'Paper Moon' !!

Monday Movie  .... & the News that Ireland is Bankrupt.  It's Official!  The IMF (International Monetary Fund) have moved in to 'take over' the levers of the economy of my native land.   And, over this weekend I wondered just how safe are the really insubstantial funds I still have in my Irish bank account.  Visions of Weimar & the currency run on the Deutsch Mark in the 1930's abound.  So too does the 1929 Wall Street Crash ~ although America is nowhere near the dire financial straits of Europe,  where the collapse of the entire currency seems possible.  I got to wondering what if this happened & I retrieved my money from 'under my pillow' .... just how worthless the piles of paper would become.  Mental images of the Bank Collapse in 'Mary Poppins' popped into my head.  And Steinbeck.  And the American Depression Era.   And I watched the 1973 Movie 'Paper Moon'.  To say I was impressed is the understatement of the decade.  I'm still humming the theme tune this morning.

Peter Bogdanovich's 'Paper Moon' is a work by a director preoccupied with Hollywood's classic film genres. This film was inspired by Little Miss Marker (1934), a Shirley Temple vehicle in which the child star won out over an opportunist. Tatum O’Neal was nine years old and had never acted in her life when she played one of the lead roles opposite her father, then superstar Ryan O’Neal, and became the (still) youngest person to ever win an Oscar. Watching Paper Moon, it’s impossible to deny the power and subtlety of her performance, and how it avoids all the traps and pitfalls into which so many child actors fall (she’s been well described as an anti-Shirley Temple). She and Ryan O’Neal develop a brilliant, absolutely convincing rapport throughout the film, whether they’re arguing heatedly about the merits of Franklin Roosevelt or stealing quick glances at each other that suggest there is much more emotional connection between them than either one would ever admit out loud. The acting is quite superb!

Paper Moon is set in the dusty, chalky backroads of rural Kansas circa 1935. It’s a funny-sweet story about hard times and desperate people, and it has a genuine heart that makes even some of its most clichéd moments ring true. Bogdanovich was at the top of his game when he made the film, having just scored with 1971’s bittersweet 'The Last Picture Show' ~ which may even make my list here of Movies I like!  And,  Like The Last Picture Show, this film was at once an evocation of a specific time and place and a commentary on it. And also like that film, Paper Moon was also shot in black-and white, an homage to 'The Grapes of Wrath' maybe,  another classic 'depression' era movie.

Ryan O’Neal stars as Moses Pray, an itinerant con man roaming through Depression-era America trying to make a few bucks off recent widows by selling them Bibles he claims their recently departed husbands ordered for them. He meets his match in Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), a headstrong nine-year-old orphan who may or may not be his daughter (“We got the same jaw,” she declares, and they do). Although Moses is only supposed to drive Addie to the next state and drop her off with her aunt, he learns that she is a quick study and a devious little con artist herself, and, despite their initial friction, they team up into an unlikely maybe-father/daughter grifter team (the fact that it is never revealed for sure if he is her father is one of the movie’s great charms). 
Moses’ original mission is to deliver Addie to her aunt, back east in Missouri. But ever the opportunist, he uses her to bait a factory owner in a simple con for $200. Moments later, after Moses has already spent the money, Addie demands it all from him. She threatens to turn him in to the nearest Lawman if he doesn’t give it to her.  A total anathema to a Grifter .... which she has 'cottoned on to' pretty quickly for a pretty little girl.   The Dialogue Rocks!

“But I don’t have it!” Moses says.    “Then get it!” Addie fires back.   

The most controversial aspect of  Paper Moon is the character of Addie Loggins,  a far cry from the roles played by Shirley Temple and other Hollywood child-stars.   Addie is a precocious nine-year old girl who manipulates Moses in the best way possible. Tough in attitude and behaviour, she swears, & worse.  In her leisure, Addie stays in bed, lights herself a cigarette, and listens to the radio. Completely adaptable to changing conditions, Addie saves Moses several times. Moses sells the bible to bereaved widows, whose names he takes from obituaries. Highly intuitive, it's Addie who sets the price for the sale; when she senses it's a rich man's house, the price goes up. Addie has no moral scruples and is not above cheating. She embarrasses a cashier in a department store, implying that she had given him a twenty (actually five) dollar bill.   Paper Moon could have easily become a “cutesy” movie ~ but it isn’t. Addie’s performance could have gone into precocious Dakota Fanning or Haley Joel Osment territory, but it doesn’t.  In long-take scene after long-take scene, Tatum O’Neal remarkably holds her own with her father.   Addie is in nearly every scene of the film.  It’s her point of view that dominates the story. 

The story is composed largely of a series of loosely connected comical adventures that slowly develop the relationship between Moses and Addie. At one point, Moses picks up a big-breasted floozie (Irish Word??) named Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn at her ditzy-sad best), and Addie feels so threatened that she has to devise an elaborate scheme to break them up. The last third of the movie involves a protracted grift in which Moses sells a bootlegger $650 of his own booze and incurs the wrath of the bootlegger’s corrupt policeman brother (both characters are played by John Hillerman).

The eponymous Trixie Delight!
 All of this is set against the backdrop of America at its economic worst.   It Looks like a true 1930's Depression era issue.   Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs did an outstanding job of utilizing high-contrast black-and-white photography and deep focus to make the flat landscape and arching sky feel as gritty and real as true life (the fact that he was not even nominated for an Oscar was a grave oversight).  As it did in The Last Picture Show, the use of black and white also brings us closer into the era, both narratively and stylistically, as Paper Moon looks like it could easily be a John Ford road comedy from 1940. The period details in this film are quite impressive ~ the old cars, the old popular radio programmes featuring Jack Benny, Fibber McGeee, and others. Bogdanovich was a film scholar and historian before he was a director, and he knew exactly how to capture the essence of a bygone cinematic era and still make it relevant to a modern audience. This is a road movie with a twist, that almost makes the depression seem desirable,  even fun!!

Paper Moon works on many different levels. It’s an entertaining movie that can be equally enjoyed for its aesthetic value.   Any little girl, almost as precocious as Addie would just adores this movie.  It truly would be difficult to find more wholesome family entertainment & yet a cinematic venture which retains it's artistic edge.   This movie deserved every accolade it collected!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Soho !!

This is Shane MacGowan ~ Irish Boy, Bawd, Bard, Balladeer ~ with his Best Ballad.  Beautiful & Haunting.   I don't like love songs as a rule, but I make an exception for this (& Oasis's 'Wonderwall').   The lyric "You're the measure of my dreams"  is probably the most Romantic line ever penned, ever,  certainly by McGowan.   And all alleged alcohol associations aside,  his accomplishment here is nothing short of Perfection.  A Poignantly Perfect Paean to Lost Love.  It couldn't be bettered,  could it?

I have always adored McGowan & the Pogues.  Even when he plays the Shambling Drunk.   The man writes some Special lyrics ~ Sweet & Sad.    'A Pair of Brown Eyes'  &  'Haunted by the Ghost'  are some of my favourite songs of  forever,  along with this one.    And Sunday morning does evoke that  "Cloak of Silence".

Originally included on their  Poguetry in Motion  EP, a different version can be found on an expanded edition of the Pogue's 1985 release,   Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.   I possess both.  Both are Beautiful.

I've been loving you a long time
Down all the years, down all the days
And I've cried for all your troubles
Smiled at your funny little ways
We watched our friends grow up together
And we saw them as they fell
Some of them fell into Heaven
Some of them fell into Hell

I took shelter from a shower
And I stepped into your arms
On a rainy night in Soho
The wind was whistling all its charms
I sang you all my sorrows
You told me all your joys
Whatever happened to that old song
To all those little girls and boys

Sometimes I wake up in the morning
The gingerlady by my bed
Covered in a cloak of silence
I hear you talking in my head
I'm not singing for the future
I'm not dreaming of the past
I'm not talking of the first time
I never think about the last

Now the song is nearly over
We may never find out what it means
Still there's a light I hold before me
You're the measure of my dreams
The measure of my dreams

This song has also been covered by Damien Dempsey, Paddy Reilly & Ronnie Drew, who recorded it on his final album   The Last Session: A Fond Farewell.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Holtzberg's Holiday ...

Today is the second anniversary of the terror attacks in Mubmai, India's financial capital. Some 25 Islamic terrorists from Pakistan infiltrated India's borders by sea, and strategically attacked 10 Civilian residencies, including 2 major hotels, 2 hospitals, a tourist restaurant and targeting down Mumbai's Chabad House, killing at least 195 civilians in the attack.

Among those murdered, 6 people in the Chabad house were murdered, all of whom were Jews.  They were murdered because they were Jews. They were Bentzion Chroman, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, Yocheved Orpaz, and Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, and the Chabad couple who ran the Nariman Chabad house, Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg.  The Holtzbergs were pre-selected targets.

Indian Police killed two of the terrorists inside the Chabad House, Abu Umar, and Babar Imaran; who had told the Holtzbergs they were Israeli travelers, and were being hosted by the Holtzbergs with their legendary hospitality.   The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small local Jewish community, visiting businesspeople and the throngs of tourists, many of them Israeli, who annually travel to the seaside city.

"Gavi and Rivka Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. "As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists."  Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting businesspeople.  "For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty," continued the statement. "Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched."

These terrorists seized hold of the Chabad House around 9:45 PM on Wednesday, November 25th, and were reported to be holding several hostages. Rabbi Holtzberg had been on the phone with the Israeli Embassy when the terrorists stormed the house.  His last known phone call was to the Israeli Consulate Wednesday night to report that gunmen were in his house. In the middle of the conversation, the line went dead.  US Chabad official Rabbi Levi Shemtov attempted to negotiate with the terrorists on the phone, but the terrorists would not allow any officials to speak to any of the hostages.  Sometime on Thursday all of the Jewish hostages were mutilated & murdered for the "crime" of being Jewish!

Among the hostages released, the Holtzbergs two-year-old son, Moshe, was rescued by their nanny, Sandra Samuel, who was hiding in a closet when she heard him crying. The nanny grabbed baby Moshe, who had just celebrated his second birthday & had been wandering around in bload-soaked clothing, a witness to the horrific events unfolding around him.  He lives now in Eretz Yisrael with his Grandparents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, & started first grade school for the first time in September.  Sandra Samuel became an Israeli citizen last September. At a ceremony in the Interior Ministry Samuel said she would give her life and heart for Israel. Her Mitzvah will never be forgotten, I am reminded of Ruth the Moabite, whose words were that Ha'Shem would henceforth be her G-d. 

Early Friday morning, Indian security officials attacked and forced their way into the Chabad House, killing the two terrorists in the crossfire,  they discovered that all the hostages were already murdered.  Rebbetzin Holtzberg was found, bound & trussed up by telephone wires, and there signs of torture, beating, and sexual abuse on her and the other five Jewish victims.    She was five months pregnant at the time.  The Chabad house was a deliberate target in the terrorists' agenda.  And more importantly, the world lost some special people.  
The Holtzbergs were emissaries to their cause ~  spreading kindness to the world, because they felt it was the right thing to do. They both decided at a young age to devote their life to helping other Jews who needed more religious inspiration. The couple arrived to Mumbai in 2003 and ran the open Chabad house to offer a kosher meal and a comfortable atmosphere to any guests passing through. Rabbi Holtzberg bought and prepared hundreds of chickens himself, as there was no kosher meat in Mumbai. Rivkah baked bread for 800 people by the week,  provided daycare for children,  and all types of holiday activities and religious services.

The Chabad house served as a haven for Jewish life in Mumbai .... they provided full-time kosher food,  synagogue services, and shabbat services for anyone who walked into their home. The Holtzbergs both taught Torah classes in Mumbai to the Jewish community, whose population is close to 4,000 & provided tens of thousands of meals to all the different types of people who entered the Chabad house, in addition to performing funeral and wedding services for the Jewish community.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg said, “The Torah says to love your fellow Jew as yourself. Our work here is not just our job, its our pleasure!”   The Holtzbergs had told the Jewish community of Mumbai that they were always there for them.  The Holtzbergs represent people that don't just say, but do. A tragedy such as this, may destroy the Chabad family in Mumbai, but while it is human to grieve,  it is also important to move forward, and take lessons out of everything.  In fact her friends always described Rebbetzin Rivkah Rosenberg as always having a positive outlook and a kind word for everyone, with a Smile!

Understanding lessons from the Lubavitcher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, our message is clear. “It is not our job to explain, but it is our job to act,” the Lubavitcher Rabbi had said. “Tragedies must be cultivated to make something positive out of it. We must build and grow to bring more light onto this world.”    Practically, the message the Holtzbergs would have wanted to give would be to increase the acts of kindness in order to make the world a better place.  It is actually this weeks Parsha from Torah, so fits here so well.  While we live on, the Holtzbergs do not,  but their acts of kindness echo in the world ....  we will live and learn from them. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Visas & Virtues!!

This is Chiune Sugihara!

  "Betimes Eagles downswoop & 'neath barnyard fowl fly ... but barnyard fowl with outstretched wing shall never soar amid the Eagles in the sky!

So goes an old Russian proverb.  It is particularly fitting here for two reasons.  A friend first alerted me to this couple's existence ~ He is an Israeli journalist with a Russian background, and secondly,  the story itself has Russian Resonances.   I've just finished reading "Visas for Life", an autobiography written by Sugihara`s wife, Yukiko, & I'm impressed. Very!   This book tells the tale of a man and his wife who, when confronted with evil, obeyed the kindness of their hearts and consciences in defiance of the orders of an indifferent government.  In the course of human existence, many people are tested. Only a few soar as eagles and achieve greatness by simple acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and humanity.  The Sugihara's Soar so.

In March 1939, Japanese Consul-General Chiune Sugihara was sent to Kaunas to open a consulate service. Kaunas was the temporary capital of Lithuania at the time and was strategically situated between Germany and the Soviet Union. After Hitler's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Chiune Sugihara had barely settled down in his new post when Nazi armies invaded Poland and a wave of Jewish refugees streamed into Lithuania. They brought with them chilling tales of German atrocities against the Jewish population. They escaped from Poland without possessions or money, and the local Jewish population did their utmost to help with money, clothing and shelter.

Before the war, the population of Kaunas consisted of 120,000 inhabitants, one fourth of which were Jews. Lithuania, at the time, had been an enclave of peace and prosperity for Jews. Most Lithuanian Jews did not fully realize or believe the extent of the Nazi Holocaust that was being perpetrated against the Jews in Poland. The Jewish refugees tried to explain that they were being murdered by the tens of thousands. No one could quite believe them. The Lithuanian Jews continued living normal lives. Things began to change for the very worst on June 15th, 1940, when the Soviets invaded Lithuania. It was now too late for the Lithuanian Jews to leave for the East. Ironically, the Soviets would allow Polish Jews to continue to emigrate out of Lithuania through the Soviet Union if they could obtain certain travel documents.

By 1940, most of Western Europe had been conquered by the Nazis, with Britain standing alone. The rest of the free world, with very few exceptions, barred the immigration of Jewish refugees from Poland or anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe.  Against this terrible backdrop, the Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara suddenly became the lynchpin in a desperate plan for survival. The fate of thousands of families depended on his humanity. The Germans were rapidly advancing east. In July 1940, the Soviet authorities instructed all foreign embassies to leave Kaunas. Almost all left immediately, but Chiune Sugihara requested and received a 20-day extension.

Except for Mr. Jan Zwartendijk, the acting Dutch consul, Chiune Sugihara was now the only foreign consul left in Lithuanania's capital city. They had much work to do.

Now into summer, time was running out for the refugees. Hitler rapidly tightened his net around Eastern Europe. It was then that some of the Polish refugees came up with a plan that offered one last chance for freedom. They discovered that two Dutch colonial islands, ~ Curacao and Dutch Guyana, (now known as Surinam) ~ situated in the Caribbean, did not require formal entrance visas. Furthermore, the honorary Dutch consul, Jan Zwartendijk, told them he had gotten permission to stamp their passports with entrance permits. 

There remained one major obstacle. To get to these islands, the refugees needed to pass through the Soviet Union. The Soviet consul, who was sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, agreed to let them pass on one condition .... In addition to the Dutch entrance permit, they would also have to obtain a transit visa from the Japanese,  as they would have to pass through Japan on their way to the Dutch islands.

On a summer morning in late July 1940,  Consul Sugihara and his family awakened to a crowd of Polish Jewish refugees gathered outside the consulate. Desperate to flee the approaching Nazis, the refugees knew that their only path lay to the east. If Consul Sugihara would grant them Japanese transit visas, they could obtain Soviet exit visas and race to possible freedom. Sugihara was moved by their plight, but he did not have the authority to issue hundreds of visas without permission from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. Chiune Sugihara wired his government three times for permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees.  Three times he was denied!

 After repeatedly receiving negative responses from Tokyo, the Consul discussed the situation with his wife. Sugihara had a difficult decision to make. He was a man who was brought up in the strict and traditional discipline of the Japanese. He was a career diplomat, who suddenly had to make a very difficult choice. On one had, he was bound by the traditional obedience he had been taught all his life. On the other hand, he was a Samurai who had been told to help those who were in need. He knew that if he defied the orders of his superiors, he might be fired and disgraced, and would probably never work for the Japanese government again. This would result in extreme financial hardship for his family in the future.

Chiune and his wife Yukiko even feared for their lives and the lives of their children, but in the end, could only follow their consciences. The visas would be signed!!

For 29 days, from July 31st to August 28th, 1940,  Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara sat for endless hours writing and signing visas by hand. Hour after hour, day after day, for these three weeks, they wrote and signed visas. They wrote over 300 visas a day, which would normally be one month's worth of work for the consul. Yukiko also helped him register these visas. At the end of the day, she would massage his fatigued hands. He did not even stop to eat. His wife supplied him with sandwiches.  Sugihara chose not to lose a minute because people were standing in line in front of his consulate day and night for these visas.  When some began climbing the compound wall, he came out to calm them down and assure them that he would do is best to help them all.  Hundreds of applicants became thousands as he worked to grant as many visas as possible before being forced to close the consulate and leave Lithuania. Consul Sugihara continued issuing documents from his train window until the moment the train departed Kovno for Berlin on September 1st, 1940. And as the train pulled out of the station, Sugihara gave the consul visa stamp to a refugee who was able use it to save even more Jewish lives.

After receiving their visas, the refugees lost no time in getting on trains that took them to Moscow, and then by trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok. From there, most of them continued to Kobe, Japan. They were allowed to stay in Kobe for several months, and were then sent to Shanghai, China. Thousands of Polish Jews with Sugihara visas survived in safety under the benign protection of the Japanese government in Shanghai. As many as six thousand refugees made their way to Japan, China and other countries in the following months. They had escaped the Holocaust. Through a strange twist of history, they owed their lives to a Japanese man and his family. They had become Sugihara Survivors.

Despite his disobedience, his government found Sugihara's vast skills useful for the remainder of the war. But in 1945, the Japanese government unceremoniously dismissed Chiune Sugihara from the diplomatic service. His career as a diplomat was shattered. He had to start his life over. Once a rising star in the Japanese foreign service, Chiune Sugihara could at first only find work as a part-time translator and interpreter. For the last two decades of his life, he worked as a manager for an export company with business in Moscow. This was his fate because he dared to save thousands of human beings from certain death.

For the last half century people have asked,  Why did he risk his career, his family fortune, and the lives of his family to issue visas to Jewish refugees in Lithuania?" 

Chiune Sugihara always did things his own way. He was born on January 1st, 1900. He graduated from high school with top marks and his father insisted that he become a medical doctor. But Chiune's dream was to study literature and live abroad. Sugihara attended Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University to study English. He paid for his own education with part-time work as a Docker and tutor.  One day he saw an item in the classified ads. The Foreign Ministry was seeking people who wished to study abroad and might be interested in a diplomatic career. He passed the difficult entrance exam and was sent to the Japanese language institute in Harbin, China. He studied Russian and graduated with honours. The cosmopolitan nature of Harbin, China opened his eyes to how diverse and interesting the world was.

He then served with the Japanese-controlled government in Manchuria, in northeastern China. He was later promoted to Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Department. He was soon in line to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Manchuria.  While in Manchuria he negotiated the purchase of the Russian-owned Manchurian railroad system by the Japanese. This saved the Japanese government millions of dollars, and infuriated the Russians.  But, Sugihara was disturbed by his government's policy and the cruel treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese government. He resigned his post in protest in 1934.

In 1938 Sugihara was posted to the Japanese diplomatic office in Helsinki, Finland. With World War II looming on the horizon, the Japanese government sent Sugihara to Lithuania to open a one-man consulate in 1939. There he would report on Soviet and German war plans. Six months later, war broke out and the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania. The Soviets ordered all consulates to be closed. It was in this context that Sugihara was confronted with the requests of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland.

“I didn’t do anything special….I made my own decisions, that’s all. I followed my own conscience and listened to it.”  ~ Chiune Sugihara

Sugihara's personal history and temperament may contain the key to why he defied his government's orders and issued the visas. Sugihara favoured his mother's personality. He thought of himself as kind and nurturing and artistic. He was interested in foreign ideas, religion, philosophy and language. He wanted to travel the world and see everything there was, and experience the world. He had a strong sense of the value of all human life. His language skills show that he was always interested in learning more about other peoples.   Sugihara was a humble and understated man. He was self-sacrificing, self-effacing and had a very good sense of humour. Yukiko, his wife, said he found it very difficult to discipline the children when they misbehaved. He never lost his temper.

Sugihara was also raised in the strict Japanese code of ethics of a turn-of-the-century Samurai family. The cardinal virtues of this society were oya koko (love of the family), kodomo no tamene (for the sake of the children), having gidi and on (duty and responsibility, or obligation to repay a debt), gaman (withholding of emotions on the surface), gambatehaji no kakete (don't bring shame on the family). These virtues were strongly inculcated by Chiune's middle-class rural Samurai family ~  (internal strength and resourcefulness), and it took enormous courage for Sugihara to defy the order of his father to become a doctor, and instead follow his own academic path. It took courage to leave Japan and study overseas. It took a very modern liberal Japanese man to marry a Caucasian woman (his first wife; Yukiko was his second wife) and it took even more courage to openly oppose the Japanese military policies of expansion in the 1930's.

Thus Sugihara was no ordinary Japanese man and may have been no ordinary man. At the time that he and his wife Yukiko thought of the plight of the Jewish refugees, he was haunted by the words of an old Samurai maxim .... "Even a hunter cannot kill a bird which flies to him for refuge."

 This he practiced to his detriment, but not his regret!

"Do you remember this?" One day in August 1968, the event happened unexpectedly. A gentleman came over to Sugihara suddenly.  Showing Sugihara one tattered piece of paper, this gentleman asked him, "Do you remember this, Mr. Sugihara?" The piece of paper was the transit visa that Sugihara issued in Kaunas, Lithuania all those years ago ~ and the man he had helped save was Mr. Yehoshua Nishri.  Soon, hundreds of others whom he had saved came forward and testified to the Yad Vashem committee in Israel about his life saving acts of courage. After gathering testimonies from all over the world, Yad Vashem realized the enormity of this man's self-sacrifice in saving Jews. And so it came to pass that in 1985 he received Israel's highest honour. He was recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Yad Vashem Martyrs Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.

By then a old man near death, he was too ill to travel to Israel. His wife and son received the honor on his behalf. Further, a tree was planted in his name at Yad Vashem, and a park in Jerusalem was named in his honour.   Consul Chiune Sugihara, aged 86, died on July 31st, 1986.  Mrs.Yukiko Sugihara, age 94, passed away on October 8th, 2008.

After those 29 fateful days in July and August of 1940, there may be more than 40,000 who owe their lives to Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara. Two generations have come after the original Sugihara survivors, all owing their existence to one modest man and his family.   There are many more things I'd like to say but I have run out of space to say them.  Read the Book!!

The Talmud teaches that saving one life is tantamount to saving the world entire. Chiune Sugihara is an embodiment of this!

LA's Tribute to Chiune Sugihara!!
(It's in Chinatown)

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's In a Name??

The Shomron ~ the entire width of Israel!

 I have in blogging this month already looked at  "Palestine" & how that name describes a geographical entity & not a people or a nation.  No such nation or people with a right to nationhood exists now or ever did. It is nothing more than a fraudulent scam to claim lands for Allah!!  (see the previous blog posting Terms that Deceive!).  I also looked at the libellous language employed by the Nazi's of the Third Reich to cover their Murder on a Mass scale. (see the previous blog posting Kristallnacht!).  So, today I want to look at another term or name devised with no purpose other than to deceive.  Another name that has fallen into usage & become accepted as a reality, which it is not, although designed to deceive.  That term is "The West Bank"!!

The land of Samaria and the area known as Judea make up what is often termed the "West Bank", i.e. the west bank of the Jordan River. The latter name did not exist until the early 20th century, when after the defeat of the centuries old Ottoman Turkish Empire in World War I, the British and the French divided up much of the region's spoils.   In 1922, to reward Hashemite Arab allies in the Arabian Peninsula, the British chopped off almost 80% of the original 'Mandate of Palestine' ~ the geographical area ~  that they had received on April 25, 1920 for the purpose of allowing a Jewish Homeland and handed it over to the Hashemites.

Since all of this land reward consisted of Palestine across (east of) the Jordan River, the East Bank became known as the Emirate of Transjordan. Thus arose the name "West Bank" ~ formerly known for thousands of years as Judea and Samaria ~ located on the opposite shore.

When Transjordan illegally seized the non-apportioned territory of the Mandate on the "West Bank" in 1948 (where Jews, Arabs, and others were legally allowed to live), when it joined other attacking Arab states to try to nip a reborn Israel in the bud & strangle it at birth,  it further emphasized this designation to distinguish its newly conquered territory from the original 1922 Emirate,  today known simply as Jordan. 

 Historical Israel
 Jews have lived and owned property in Judea and Samaria for thousands of years. Massacres by Arabs in the 1920's and 1930's took their tolls as did previous ups and downs of Jewish history under various imperial conquerors which succeeded each other since the fall of Judea to Rome some two thousand years earlier. However, as soon as Transjordan seized Judea and Samaria, it declared that no Jew could live there. Places such as Hebron, Beth-El, Shilo, Bethlehem, Shechem, and so forth are known to the world via the Hebrew Bible. Most Arabs came into the area after their own imperial conquests in the 7th century C.E. They ruled, first out of Damascus and then out of Baghdad,  for a few centuries and were then conquered themselves by the next of Judea's imperial settlers and colonisers.

Jordan is "Palestine"
 In 1922, Britain invented the emirate of Transjordan. When Transjordan became independent in 1946, Emir Abdullah became King Abdullah of Transjordan. After Israel & Transjordan signed the armistice following Israel's War of Independence (3rd April 1949), Transjordan (illegally) annexed all the land they could get their hands on.  To demonstrate sovereignty over both banks of the River Jordan,  King Abdullah dropped the "Trans " from the name of his artificial kingdom, and "Transjordan " became "Jordan ".  Abdullah then invented the term "West Bank " for the express purpose of trying to eradicate all Jewish historical connections with the area. And in 1954, Jordan passed Law #6 on Nationality which granted citizenship to "any person who, NOT BEING JEWISH, possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948". 

After 1949, when Transjordan seized the "West Bank," while no Jews were allowed in the territories, Arabs poured into them from all over. To further its Judenrein policies, Transjordan ~ now holding both banks of the River ~ renamed itself Jordan and proceeded to destroy dozens of synagogues, cemeteries, and so forth in adjacent Jerusalem and elsewhere dating back numerous centuries and showing the Jews' continuous connections to the land.

The current American Administration insists that no Jews should be allowed to live in Judea or Samaria as well, completely acceding to false Arab claims & demands.  It also demands that Israel abandon what UNSC Resolution 242 promised it after the June '67 War ~ secure, defencible borders instead of the previous '49 armistice lines which made it virtually invisible on a world map.

America & Europe took lands thousands of miles away from their integral territories because they had interests there over the centuries, (American Samoa & the Falkland Islands come to mind here ~ these are still officially categorised as American & United Kingdom territory) YET they claim that no Jew may live in Judea or Samaria. Is that fair? Does America act that way? Does the UK protect it's Cititizens interests thusly? (The Falkland War of the 1980's tells otherwise!!)

Unlike Samoa to America or the Falkland Islands to the UK, Judea and Samaria are literally a stone's throw away from Israel's heartland, are an integral part of Jewish history, and are positioned to allow a hostile army entering from the east to cut Israel in half.    If Judea must be Judenrein, then every Arab in Israel should be sent packing. Israel must be made Arabrein.  Half of the latter are just waiting ~ like vultures ~ to pounce anyway ... given the right moment. It is truly time for equal treatment here. What's good for Jews must be good for Arabs.   Only Jews worry about being fair when they're fighting for their very lives against enemies who won't grant them any peace except the peace of the grave & want every piece ~ regardless of the size Israel shrinks itself to.  The rest of the world couldn't care less.  So, you know what ..... Let's not think about what the world thinks at all!!   Instead, Let us think about what's needed for survival for a change ... not thousands of miles away from home,  but right on Israel's front porch and backyard.  For Survival.  Our Survival.  And, the Survival of our homeland.  The ONE JEWISH STATE.

PA Map of "Palestine" ~ Israel has been wiped off the Map!
Forget land for peace. It's a bad joke ~ part of the Arabs' openly-admitted destruction-in-phases plan since 1967. Look at a map of the region. Is the problem really a lack of Arab land in comparison to Israel?  Or the fact that A  Judenrein World is wanted?

Peace for peace...Period!!!!!!!!!!!

We are told names are important.  The name of the Jewish State of Israel certainly is .....No recognition of a Jewish State of Israel?   Then no recognizing a 22nd state for Arabs ~ and their second, not first, one in "Palestine".  (Jordan is Arab "palestine", remember??).
Look at what came after Israel's total withdrawal from Gaza seven years ago to see what a total Israeli withdrawal from the "West Bank" will mean for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben-Gurion Airport, the Knesset, and so forth once Israel has been forced back to the '49 armistice lines ~ not borders ~ imposed on it by the United Nations and which made it a mere 9/16 miles wide at its strategic waist,  where most of its population, industry, and so forth are located.  For me this is the Crux of the present Issue,  Israel would be comitting suicide and ceasing to exist if it accedes to present demands of the Obama Administration & the clamourings of the world media.   Is this their intent???

The term the "West Bank" is part of the process of divorcing the Jews who live there right now from their land & of removing it's historical association with Judaism ..... If It is called the West Bank .... ie the West Bank of the Jordan river. ie  as part of Jordan the country.  ie not Israel .....  Get it?????

It is removing Israeli land from the Jewish State of Israel.   It is shrinking the size of Eretz Yisrael & it is removing Jewish land from the Jewish people by stealth.  That is the purposeful use of this term & language.  
That is what is in a name!

Most politicians & major newspapers & television stations use only the term "West Bank" ~ a Jordanian reference from 1950 to distinguish the area from the "East Bank" ~ rather than its authentic names, Judea and Samaria,  apparently to deny its Jewish history.  That is what is in a name.  And it is a name that no Jew should use when describing the land of the  Jewish State of Israel!

Friday, November 19, 2010

As You Wish!

It's Film Friday, and given the week that is in it I thought this the perfect review to do.  My first ever cinematic foray was when I was three years old to see 'The Wizard of Oz' with my Mom.  I was Mesmerised. In fact, I adored the medium so much that I made her sit through it twice with me so I could absorb all the wonderment it contained.  I've never lost my obesession with movies,  so,  a couple of years ago when a friend quoted 'The Princess Bride' & I didn't know the movie, both of us were a little shocked.  We remedied that rather quickly (it was my bedtime story for a while).  And now, I adore both the book & movie versions,  so much so that it has become my very favourite tale of a Princess & her Pirate!!

 With a cough and an image of a Loaded Nintendo video game, “the grandson” (Fred Savage) makes his entrance. In need of both getting well and amusement,  his grandpa (Peter Falk), begins to read him the tale of 'The Princess Bride',  by S. Morgan Stern.  Grandpa informs grandson that this tale includes “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.”   What more could anyone ask for?

And so, the story of Westley (Cary Elwes) and his love, Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), begins .... While serving the young Princess as a boy, Westley professes his love by exclaiming As you wish instead of I love you”.   She slowly comes to realise this truth & it becomes the driving force of the film & her life.

 “Life is pain... anyone who says different is selling something”

But those lines are only a very small part of what makes 'The Princess Bride' such a special motion picture.  And, for those who crave features that can be enjoyed by every member of the family (grammar school kid, teenage troublemaker, tough-to-please twenty-something, beleaguered mom and dad, and grumpy grandparents), there may be nothing better than this motion picture, which celebrates fairy tales and true love with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. This is what happens when stories of heroism and derring-do collide head-on with a Monty Python sensibility. Best of all, despite its satirical bent, 'The Princess Bride' can still be enjoyed on the simpler level of the story of a princess being rescued by her one true love, which still keeps my six year old stuck to the sofa throughout.

The Princess Bride is constructed as a story-within-a-story, with the framing scenes occurring in the "real world" as a grandfather (Peter Falk) stops by to read a story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage).  During these scenes, Director Rob Reiner makes a statement about the value of books over electronic forms of entertainment. When the grandfather arrives, his grandson is playing a video game, a blank expression on his face. But, once the story takes flight in his imagination, he is absorbed and transfixed ~ transported to another time and place in a way that even the best electronic game cannot accomplish. I too believe this!

 "This is true love ~ you think this happens every day?"

  The primary narrative, which evolves as the grandfather reads it (and occasionally interrupts it to intersperse comments or skip over boring parts), takes place in the magical land of Florin, and tells of the true love between peasant girl Butercup (Robin Wright) and stablehand Westley (Cary Elwes).  After declaring their unending love for each other, they are separated, and Westley is reported dead. Buttercup, cold-hearted and stone-faced after her loss, is chosen by the crown prince, Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), to be his bride.  Humperdinck's motives, however, are not pure. He intends to arrange for Buttercup's abduction, frame rival country Guilder for her murder, and start a war with the backing of the common folk, who love their princess-to-be. To this end, he hires three rogues to capture Buttercup .... the wily Sicilian Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who fancies himself to be the smartest man in the world and has a fondness for the word "inconceivable;" the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant), who is dumb, kind-hearted, and humungous, and the swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantankin), who is scouring the world in search of the six-fingered man who killed his beloved father.

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

 When William Goldman wrote those words, he did not intend for them to become a fragment of '80's pop culture. When Mandy Patinkin spoke those words, he didn't expect his every inflection to be endlessly mimicked. And when Rob Reiner directed those words, he had no idea that kids and young adults everywhere would be repeating them. Nevertheless, there's no doubting that nearly every movie-going American (at least) is familiar with those three short sentences. Reiner has stated that, along with "I'll have what she's having" and "You can't handle the truth",   this represents one of the three most often quoted excerpts of dialogue from his movies.    This movie stands as one of the most eminently quotable films ever made ~ this side of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, anyways,  & it's filled in my FB status box on more than one occasion!

Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo kidnap Buttercup one day when she's out riding. Heading for the Guilder/Florin frontier, they spirit her away by boat. Hot on their trail is the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. The Man in Black). He pursues them to the Cliffs of Insanity, where he engages in a duel of steel with Inigo, a wrestling match with Fezzik, and a match of wits with Vizzini to win Buttercup.  Once she is in his custody,  he reveals himself to be Westley.  Fleeing Humperdinck and his lackey,  Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), Buttercup and Westley enter the dreaded Fire Swamp, where the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size) are only one of the dangers. And, once they get out, there's still Humperdinck to deal with. Fortunately, Westley and Buttercup are not without allies. Fezzik and Inigo have joined them, and there's also help from a wizened old dwarf named Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), who harbours no love for Humperdinck or Rugen.

 "Is this a kissing book?"

For director Rob Reiner, 'The Princess Bride' represented the fourth of seven consecutive commercial and critical successes (a streak that began with 1984's This Is Spinal Tap and ended with 1992's A Few Good Men). The tone owes more to Spinal Tap than to any of Reiner's other outings though ~ it is witty and irreverent without ever going so far over-the-top that it turns the proceedings into camp. Reiner manages the difficult yet ultimately rewarding task of creating a movie that simultaneously parodies a genre while also celebrating and participating in it.  Despite the satirical edge and the fantastic setting, we come to care about these individuals.

The film is based on the book by William Goldman, who wrote his own screenplay adaptation.  Years later, he would comment that he was only fully satisfied with the motion picture versions of two of his scripts ~  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride!!

The average family film is targeted primarily at children, with a few elements thrown in to go over the youngsters' heads and appeal to their parents. (Many Disney films fit into this category.)   I've seen so many of these over the years as I pander to my soon to be 7 year old!  

The crafting of The Princess Bride, however, is superior. Nearly every aspect of the film delights all potential viewers. The sword fight between Inigo and Westley, for example, offers equal thrills to 7-year olds and 27-year olds (although the verbal repertoire that accompanies the physical struggle will resonate more with older viewers).  Incidentally, that particular sequence, arguably the best screen fencing battle in film history (including those from the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks), is notable for its lack of stunt doubles. All of the action (except a couple of acrobatic flips) is performed by the actors, not stunt doubles. Mandy Patankin and Cary Elwes studied for months to be able to pull off this struggle convincingly.

"As you wish" was all he ever said to her.

 Everyone who has seen The Princess Bride has a favourite scene, and it's a testimony to the film's start-to-finish strength that nearly every minute of the movie's running length is on someone's list. The candidates are wide and varied, ranging from the Inigo/Westley swordfight to the battle of intelligence with Vezzini to the Pit of Despair to the visit to Miracle Max's to the storming of the castle and the duel with the six-fingered man. There is little, if anything, in The Princess Bride that doesn't work. Reiner hits all the right notes, and it would be impossible to achieve a better overall tone.    

There isn't a bad casting choice, either. Robin Wright and Cary Elwes were selected as much for their good looks as for their acting ability, and they prove to be a superior romantic couple. Wright, despite being California bred, affects a flawless British accent.   No mean feat when you live here every day & realise how different the language actually is on either side of the Atlantic Ocean!  

Elwes is equally at home with comedy, action, and drama. Mandy Patankin, playing Inigo, matches Elwes' athleticism and develops a character who is instantly sympathetic (despite initially being a "bad guy"). Andre the Giant represents the mighty Fezzik as a lovable brute, and Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the egotistic Vizzini, whose end is inconceivable. Chris Sarandon elevates Humperdinck's pomposity to amazing levels, and Christopher Guest underlies Rugen's cowardly ways with a sense of the sinister.

 Although children generally appreciate The Princess Bride's pseudo-fairy tale narrative and action-oriented approach, much of the dialogue is designed for adults. Mostly credited to Goldman,  it's brilliant stuff!   The quips traded by Inigo and Westley during their duel are as impressive as the actual swordsmanship. Vizzini's double-talk about which cup is poisoned (during the battle of wits) needs to be listened to several times before it begins to make twisted sense.

The word "brilliant" is often overused in the movie business,  but this is one of those occasions when it is absolutely warranted.   Identifying its impact isn't easy ~ let's just say it is effective as a swashbuckling epic, romantic fable, and as a satire of these genres.   The Princess Bride is an unparalleled achievement ~ a modern classic that will be enjoyed for generations to come.  Equally as Enthralling & as much a classic as 'The Wizard of Oz'  which took me through my tormented childhood years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Raglan Road ...

Raglan Road, Dublin 4.

   Patrick Kavanagh, Poet, was born in Inniskeen parish, County Monaghan, Ireland in 1904.  For twenty years he lived life as an ordinary young Irish farmer of the period, toiling for pocket money in fields he expected some day to inherit.  But he was not that farm boy.  In 1939 he settled in Dublin, Ireland's Capital. 

Kavanagh lived in Pembroke Road, Dublin 4, adjacent to Raglan Road, where this poem is set,  from 1946 (the date of the poem) until 1958,  and thence on Raglan Road itself from 1958 to 1959.   And, this is where Kavanagh & I have a connection .... for I grew up & spent all my childhood years on Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4!!

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay ~
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay ~
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day. 

Kavanagh first sang On Raglan Road (in public) sometime between August 1945 and April 1947,  when he was employed on the 'Standard' newspaper.  Writer Benedict Kiely (1919-2007),  then also working for the Standard, recalled Kavanagh walking into the office one day and saying, "there, sing that to that  ...   'On Raglan Road' to 'The Dawning of the Day’".    On Raglan Road’s melody is an almost perfect match for the traditional 18th century air  'Fáinne Geal an Lae'  ~   or “the dawning of the day”,  translated by Edward Walsh (1805-50).

Taken from 'The Irish Times', 1971.
(It still looks exactly like that!!!)
Luke Kelly   of Irish traditional band, the Dubliners,  met Patrick Kavanagh only once in the Bailey,  a pub in Grafton Street,  Dublin,  in 1966.  Both men, (to employ a Dublin euphemism),  "liked a drink"!!    In Dubspeak, this means to get pissed as a newt & intone Bawdy Ballads until you pass out, no matter to whose chagrin.  Anyways, during this encounter Kavanagh told him he had a song for him.  The song was 'On Raglan Road'.   For many people Luke Kelly's interpretation of 'On Raglan Road' is the definitive one.  Luke Kelly performs 'On Raglan Road' accompanied by Al O'Donnell below for you to enjoy!

On a mossy bank I sat me down, this maiden by my side,
With gentle words I courted her; I asked her “be my bride”,
She said "young man don't bring me shame" and swiftly turned away,
And the sun’s first light, pursued her flight at the dawning of the day.

Kavanagh certainly knew The Dawning of the Day, which had been popularised by John McCormack’s 1934 recording, and he himself matched lyric to melody.  The structure of both songs is very similar, as is the theme of lost love.  Kavanagh also retained the key refrain, “the dawning of the day” which is name checked in the last line.  There are also similarities of phrasing: for example; “with gentle words I courted her” is surely echoed in Kavanagh’s “I gave her poems to say”?? 

Paddy Kavanagh in 'the Snug'

His later years were to be plagued by ill health ~ he had lung cancer ~ and financial concerns & Kavanagh finally succumbed and died of pneumonia on 30th November 1967.   One of his best friends and staunchest supporters, writer, and owner of  the Bailey pub,  John Ryan (1925-92), summed up his brilliant but chaotic life well.

“Did he not, like the patriarch, show us the Promised Land? And, like the prophet, fail to attain it himself”?

This is a remarkably good epitaph for Patrick Kavanagh,  my very favourite & very poignant Irish poet.   This poem should be immortalised with a Plaque of it actually installed somewhere along Raglan Road,  where it is so pleasant to stroll on an autumn day,  kicking the piles of dried & wizened leaves as you go,  with the winds whipping them up all around you .... I used to do this at least weekly as I trod to the children's library on nearby Anglesea Road.     

Next to the 'Ulysses'  Industry deciphering  James Joyce,   there is an almost equivalent industry deciphering 'On Raglan Road'.   So,  although this poem has oft been compared & likened to the Mythological story of Pygmalion and Galatea,  & I do see a modicum of connection between the two stories,  I thought about it & sharing what it means to me personally ... & I'm not going to!

The song, often known simply as "Raglan Road"  has since been sung by not only Luke Kelly, but also by the Dubliners, Van Morrison, Sinéad O'Connor, Dire Straits, Billy Bragg,  Mark Knopfler, Roger Daltrey and Loreena McKennitt among others.  My favourite interpretation is Sinead O'Connor's & you can find it   right here.    I also think that Shane McGowan should record a  version of this poem.  It would be most awesome!

In 2000,  the Irish Times surveyed 'the nation's favourite poems' and ten of Kavanagh's poems were in the first fifty.   There is a seat situated on the South Bank of the Grand Canal at the Lock Gates close to Baggot Street Bridge commemorating Kavanagh & his contribution to Irish literature ....  As is well known from his poem and heavy hints to his friends, he wished to be commemorated with a simple canal side seat near the lock gates of Baggot Street Bridge!!   This was erected by his friends,  led by John Ryan and Denis Dwyer, in 1968, so he has his wish .... And, today Kavanagh sits by the leafy waters of the Canal bank,  but that is another poem ....